No Gender Gap for Victims of Violence

College students of both genders are equally likely to suffer physical or emotional violence, although the nature of violence differs, a new study says.
July 16, 2009

Young men and women in college are equally likely to be victims of physical or emotional violence, a new study shows.

Published online in the Journal of Adolescent Health (subscription required), the study comes from a survey of about 2,000 students who sought treatment at health clinics at five universities in Wisconsin, Seattle and Vancouver in 2006-7. Similar rates of young men and women -- 17 percent and 16 percent, respectively -- reported experiencing violence within the previous six months. While men were more likely to report physical abuse, women reported a high rate of emotional abuse, which was defined as acts like "repeated ridicule, threatening statements, destroying belongings and unreasonable jealousy" and considered separate from physical violence.

The kinds of perpetrators also differed by gender, according to the study. Men tended to experience violence at the hands of friends, roommates, acquaintances, strangers and supervisors. In contrast, women reported experiencing physical abuse by a family member about three times more than did men.

The study's main findings surprised Elizabeth M. Saewyc, the lead researcher and a nursing professor at the University of British Columbia, who said she "wasn't quite expecting the rate of violence to be as high."

"(We) found that of those who experienced violence, the rates of emotional violence by intimate partners was the same for men and for women," she said. "That's not something that is commonly known -- people generally don't see that."

Of those who reported emotional abuse, according to the study, more than 40 percent of both male and female students said they were dating or otherwise romantically involved with the perpetrators.

Alcohol also played a significant role in perpetuating violence, the report states. More than a third of students reported they had been drinking when emotional violence occurred, and more than half said alcohol was involved when physical violence occurred. Being intoxicated causes people to be significantly less aware of where they are and who they're with, Saewyc said, adding that colleges should work harder to combat binge drinking.

Conducting the surveys in campus health clinics made Saewyc and her colleagues even more conscious of the gap between institutions and struggling students, she said.

"People don't necessarily know they can go somewhere for help on something, don't think about reaching out when it comes to experiencing violence," she said. "There's a lot of shame that can go with that, a lot of stigma."


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